The LULAC National Educational Service Centers Inc. (LNESC) is the spear point of a historic united effort to inspire students who might not otherwise have thought a college education was possible.
"I have been with the organization for 36 years, and it's been a really great program to work with," said Richard Roybal, executive director of LNESC. "I actually get paid for something I love to do -- helping Hispanics throughout the country and seeing them excel." To date, LNESC has helped more than half a million Hispanic and disadvantaged kids find academic success.
LNESC program participants have gone on to become business leaders, scientists, and members of Congress. Through college access, leadership and financial success programs, LNESC provides one-on-one mentoring, guidance in choosing classes that colleges want to see on transcripts, information about applying for college, and financial aid counseling.
A History of Helping
Although LNESC serves about 10,000 students annually, it only has about 75 employees, and relies on LULAC for volunteers. LULAC itself is the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, having held its first convention in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1929. Citizenship and English classes were some of its earliest priorities. In the 1930s, LULAC began challenging school segregation in the Southwest; in the 1950s, it established a preschool language program that helped inspire the federal Head Start program.
In 1968, the San Francisco LULAC council's college admissions program for academically gifted but disadvantaged youth was so successful that the national office set up LNESC in 1973 as a separate corporation with control of its own programs.
In 1975, LNESC set up the LULAC National Scholarship Fund (LNSF), which matches funds raised by LULAC councils across the country. That has allowed LNESC to distribute more than $18 million in scholarships among 28,000 minority students over the years. It awards 1,000 scholarships a year on average. LNESC does much more than administer scholarships, however.
A College-going Atmosphere
One of LNESC's most important efforts centers on the federal Upward Bound program, which is designed to create a "college-going atmosphere" among low-income high school students. LNESC has plenty of candidates in the Hispanic communities it serves, said Jason Resendez, director of corporate relations and development at LNESC.
LNESC's budget is $4.1 million, of which the Upward Bound grant covers about $1.8 million. However, the U.S. Department of Education plans to reduce Upward Bound funding to 2008 levels, leaving nonprofits that provide Upward Bound programs with about $57 million less in discretionary funds.
LNESC will apply for the grant again. It has to. Otherwise it may lose one of its most effective programs, Mr. Resendez said. He added that 77 percent of Upward Bound high school students go on to college.
The Cost of Education
But when one door closes, LNESC knocks on another. Accustomed to receiving more than two-thirds of its funding from the U.S. government, LNESC is now upping the amount of money it gets from corporations.
"When you get a federal grant it's really great because they're for four years and for a big amount," Mr. Roybal said. "But we're not always going to get them."
In 2009, LNESC's budget was $5.7 million, with about $740,835 going to fund scholarships, according to Lisa Smith, senior financial adviser at LNESC. During the 2009-10 program year, according to Marianna Moron, national program manager at LNESC, the organization distributed $706,861 in scholarships.
"We're making sure we're developing new contacts with different corporations," Mr. Roybal said. "Even with the ones we do have, we're really stressing the need to get more programs and build that relationship."
At the top of LNESC's list of corporate supporters are Verizon and Proctor & Gamble. The two companies last year gave LNESC $233,000 and $170,000, respectively. McDonald's Corp., Ford Motor Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Marathon Oil Corp. help support LNESC's Young Readers program, scholarships and the annual LULAC Washington Youth Leadership Seminar. General Electric Co. gave LNESC about $60,000 its last fiscal year, and the U.S. Army gave $30,000 last year, which went toward sponsoring the scholarship fund and supporting individual LNESC centers.
The Trust Factor
But only 15 percent of LNESC's budget goes to scholarships. More than half -- 58 percent -- is poured into educational counseling, while another 19 percent goes to enrichment programs. "There is still a large percentage of (Hispanic) students who are dropping out," Mr. Roybal said. The focus is on keeping as many kids in school as possible.
LNESC also emphasizes parents' roles in a child's educational success, and strives to make learning fun by inviting guest speakers and community role models for its young learners to meet.
LNESC's programs are tailored uniquely to the communities that they are located in, Mr. Resendez says. "We have relationships with school districts and different universities," he said, and college exposure gets students excited about continuing their education.
"When we take (younger students) to a college visitation, there is a good trust factor," Mr. Roybal said. "That is why we are making a stronger difference than maybe some other groups have been able to."
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